Reflections: Friday of the 13th Week after Trinity

Daily Lectionary: 1 Kings 19:1-21; Ephesians 3:1-21

And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-12)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. Elijah’s hiding in a cave waiting to die. Something happened that gets passed over too often. Elijah forgot how to be disappointed. Because he forgot how to hope.

We all have those corners of our heart left abandoned, where hope has died. It’s easy to rush past Elijah in the cave. Still, I don’t even want to know how many people have that abandoned little corner of their heart where their hope in God died. It’s not that they think He doesn’t exist, but that they don’t believe they can depend on Him. They may have gone without for a bit too long. They might have waited for Him to avenge them or to answer muttered prayers. Fix what’s broken. Plenty of folks looked. And they did not find God.

Elijah is on the mountain looking for God, too. He’s afraid for his life. He’s got nothing left. Everything he fought for fell apart. There’s no getting back what’s gone. So God revealed Himself. Not in the wind, earthquake, or fire, but in the low, whispering Word.

The reason so many of us have given up hope is that we look for God in places He isn’t. It’s a trick the devil uses to grind down hope. Even fallen, sinful man loves to put hope in the wrong thing. It’s called an idol. The way to kill it altogether is only from one place. So Satan points us to where God isn’t (and never promised to be) and asks, “Why isn’t He there?” And he makes more sense than we want to admit.

Those are the places we wish He would be. They are the places that make us feel safe. Powerful. Fulfilled. Happy. God is not in the power of the government’s protection, not in hearing the personal testimonies from famous people that say our religion isn’t horrible. God is not in the size of the bank account, or in the cookouts, or the days at the lake. He is not in the power of the earthquake or the vengeance of the fire.

If that’s the God you’re looking for, I understand why it’s hard to swallow the foolishness I ask of you. Trust some invisible guy who, if real, and if powerful, let you get into that mess to begin with? Never mind that He warned you, “Thou shalt not,” and you sinned and did it anyway. Confess and hear Absolution. Come, lay yourself bare so I can say, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I forgive you this and all your sins.” And what? Now it’s just. . . ok?

And why? Because it’s what your parents believed? Because you were raised in this church? This is hard enough on a good day, much less when you’re sick, scared, or alone. When hope is being ground down. “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe.” That has to come from somewhere else. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the low, whispering Word of Christ.

And He still speaks. What are you doing here? Why are you hiding? Why are you afraid? You’re not as alone as you think. God would not limit Himself to your good days or your good attitude. He passes by Elijah, whispering words of peace and hope, and He passes by you, too. Not to rush past, but to dive into the valley of the shadow of death, that hope would live where there rightly should be none.

If you have the same dead corner of your heart where hope has died, know that God will not abandon you. He can save us without those things we think we need. He went without them, too. He entered this world and took on human flesh. Human need and human want. Even human sin. He bore the attacks and the lack and the sufferings and the pain. But more, He did it for you. Because of all the places we look for God and don’t find Him, He does insist on being near to you. He just wants to do it in a way that endures.

The cross. The empty tomb. Hope lives with our Lord, even hidden in caves, alone and afraid. Hope stands even as so much crumbles around us, because Christ crumbled with us and then He rose again. He carved a path through the dark, through the tomb, and out again.

To this day the Church stands to repeat these words, not because the world needs another institution, but because of all the times we’ve buried the last bit of hope in something in the world. Because God wants a place for you to collapse when hope runs thin, when questions get hard, when light seems gone. Because we need something to believe that actually saves. That wipes away tears, that drags us through when everything else gives out. That whispers hope to us that even death cannot destroy. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Merciful Father, by Word and Sacrament You have created Your Church in our world to be a caring family. Grant Your comfort to those who live in loneliness. Help them to find a place of healing and pleasant fellowship among people faithful to You. Amen.